Economic analysts have urged the federal government not to relent in its determination to formulate policies that will boost the agriculture sector and ensure massive investment in infrastructure, if the country is desirous of exiting recession this year.

In chats with LEADERSHIP, the analysts commended the federal government’s efforts in making the agricultural sector of the nation’s economy a major means of economic diversification.

President of the Association of Bureau de Change Operators of Nigeria, Aminu Gwadabe, commended the government forits support for rice production in the country, saying the product is becoming a Nigerian brand now.

“They (government) should continue to encourage non-oil exports so as to widen the revenue base in terms of foreign revenue. Up until now, earnings from non-oil exports are still low,” he said.

Chief executive of Financial Derivatives Company Ltd, Bismarck Rewane, said there are opportunities in the commodities market as it is expected to perform better this year.

According to him, the prices of cocoa, palm oil and sugar are expected to rise in the New Year due to improved weather conditions as well as rising demand. He, however, noted that oil sector output will go from -22 per cent to 5 per cent in 2017.

Another analyst, Dr Biodun Adedipe, called on the federal government to put in place policies that would protect the local industry and ensure that foreign exchange earned by the country is not drained out.

He stressed the need to reduce foreign spending on what the country can produce by itself, such as petroleum products, saying the lack of government policies to protect the country from exploitation by foreigners has led to a drain of the nation’s resources and foreign exchange.

He noted that China is taking over the Nigerian economy as the country is dominating the export and construction sector and taking out the foreign currency that should have been retained in the country.

On the agriculture sector, the executive director, Lake Chad Research Institute, Dr Oluwasina Olabanji, lamented that the N2.61 billion for the promotion and development of the wheat value chain would not take the economy very far.

He recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari had referred to the availability of the fund through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Programme.

Olabanji said: “The 2017 budget of about N92 billion is grossly inadequate. Fortunately it is not too late and the National Assembly has the opportunity to double what the president is proposing.”

He further advised that the recapitalisation of the Bank of Agriculture (BOA) be completed within the first quarter of 2017 so that farmers can have access to funds and loans at the maximum of five per cent interest rate, noting that some countries operate as low as 2-3 per cent interest rates.

On the budgetary allocation of N1.0 billion for the establishment of mega regulatory agencies and N2.58 billion for detailed mineral resources, evaluation and others, he said, “It will not go 200 per cent, but it will go some way.”

Similarly, a former consultant with the ministry of agriculture and rural development, Prof. Olumuyiwa Osiname, is optimistic that the government is already in the right direction towards bringing the economy out of recession this year by putting agriculture first.

He said: “We must put value on our products by ensuring that if we produce, we must process. Take tomatoes, for instance, if we grow them, we must be able to can them and ensure they last through the seasons.’’

For his part, the president of Soil Science Society of Nigeria (SSSN), Prof. Victor Chude, commended the efforts of the minister and minister of state for agriculture and rural development for their efforts in reflating the nation’s economy through their work in the agriculture sector.

He urged the government to focus on providing resources that will ensure that lots of the bilateral agreements already entered into with other countries are continued.

“I am also aware that the Ministry of Environment is working with some partners from Israel on the desert-to-food programme. This is aimed at addressing issues of desertification. One would like to see this programme under the framework of the Great Green Wall,’’ he said.

Prod Chude also advocated that all states of the federation should make adequate allocations to agriculture and also ensure that issues of infrastructure such as roads, power and others are addressed.

He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to encourage the state governments to get involved in agriculture and develop the crops they have comparative advantage in, citing the example of Lagos and Kebbi states’ partnership on rice production recently.

The chairman, Nigerian Mining and Geosciences Society, Prof Olugbenga Okunlola, also commended the present administration for reviving the mining sector.

He noted that under the current administration, states for the first time now enjoy the 13 per cent derivation.

Okunlola also urged the federal government to strengthen concerned institutions to maximise the benefits accruable to the country, just as he noted that the private sector still has a role to play.

He also called for sustained political will on the part of government in reforming the sector.

Former chairman of Ikeja branch of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Sam Ohuabunwa, in a chat with LEADERSHIP, yesterday, also stressed that Nigeria should focus on agriculture and manufacturing.

He said, “The surest way of working ourselves out of this recession and, perhaps, never to return to it again this year is to advocate a single-minded focus on manufacturing-production through value addition.

“If Nigeria pursues a determined manufacturing policy, most of our current economic challenges – high unemployment, high inflation, high exchange rate, etc, – will abate.’’

Speaking on policy formulation, president of MAN, Frank Jacob, said policy responses by the government in the New Year will determine how fast the economy will recover from the current woe.

He advocated a framework to ensure liquidity in the foreign exchange market, relaxation of tight monetary policy, review of unnecessary protectionist policies, encouragement of investments in agriculture as well as food processing, among other measures, to restore investors’ confidence.

On his part, the director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Muda Yusuf, told the government to adopt new measures such as the creation of new ideas, policy design and documentation for it to keep pace with the rapidly changing economy.

Yusuf also advised the government to prioritise appropriate policies that would help to drive the economy.

He condemned the implementation of a deficit budget, stressing that it was a setback for economic growth

Meanwhile, Uba Basil, managing director, Delta Marine Shipping Company, called on the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the maritime sector and to focus on the sector as it is doing in the agriculture sector.

An automotive and communications consultant, Dr Oscar Odiboh, urged the government to encourage locally made goods for the country.

For Engr. Jacob Adeosun, the president of Risk Managers Society of Nigeria (RIMSON), the way out of the present economic challenge is for the country to totally embrace risk management.

The president, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Mr. Titus Soetan, urged people entrusted with managing institutions across the country, whether public or private sector, to be professional and imbibe ethics in the discharge of their duties.

The chairman/managing director of Mobil Oil Plc,  Dr. Adetunji Oyebanji, spoke in the same vein, adding that SMEs remain the engine of growth of any economy and, as such, they need to be encouraged to thrive, especially in a troubled economy like Nigeria.

In an interview with LEADERSHIP, the president of Real Estate Development Association (REDAN), Rev Ugochukwu Chime, expressed optimism that the real estate sector offers the fastest means of resolving the current economic problems, especially youth employment which currently stands at over 60 per cent.

As for the first female president, Nigeria Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS), Mrs. Mercy Iyortyer, Nigeria could overcome the current financial and unemployment crisis by utilising the services of professionals in project planning.

Meanwhile, though some analysts applauded the federal government for earmarking N2.24 trillion for capital expenditure in the 2017 budget, they, however said the amount was not enough to take the country out of recession.

The country director, Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF), Prof. Chris Onalo, noted that this is the first time the country is budgeting so much on capital expenditure and urged the federal government to judiciously use the money to carry out specific projects that will aid economic growth and development.

According to him, “What we need actually in the country today is the ability of government to fund capital projects. Over the years, we have seen recurrent expenditure taking the largest chunk of the budget, which has never taken us anywhere. We still remain a consuming economy; we fund our consumption so much and I think that, gradually, we are shifting away from that path. It is better for the government to empower the people and build more entrepreneurs than making people live from hand to mouth in the name of receiving salaries and wages.”

He, however, advised government to block all loopholes to ensure that the last kobo of that money is used for the capital projects they are meant for.

Analysts, who spoke on the N81 billion budgeted for Industry, Trade and Investment this year, commended the government, saying that if it is well implemented, the ministry will be able to revitalise the National Industrial Revolution Plan (NIPR), which manufacturers see as a proper means for diversification.

On the N277 billion budgeted for the Ministry of Transportation, Odiboh observed that it was not sufficient for the needs of the sector.

“I don’t think that is enough coming from government. Today’s business atmosphere requires less from government. It has to be private sector-driven to survive,” he said.

Managing director of SystemSpecs Ltd, John Obaro, noted that the government would make progress in the area of fund generation and management.

“The 2017 budget, as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari, has rooms for funds collection and disbursement, and Remita, the electronic payment platform running the federal government’s Treasury Single Account (TSA), will do well in keeping track of the money generated and disbursed in a more transparent manner,’’ he stated.